Erenlai - Social Changes and Challenges 變動中的華人社會
Social Changes and Challenges 變動中的華人社會

Social Changes and Challenges 變動中的華人社會

Here are materials that examine and assess the current issues that are influencing the Pacific-Asian culture and society.





Friday, 27 December 2013

Sustainability and Corporate Culture in China

An interview with Benoit Vermander who introduces us his latest book: Corporate Social Responsibility in China, A Vision, an Assessment and a Blueprint. He tells us about the genesis and the results of his research which "aims at helping companies operating in China to better assess and exercise their corporate social responsibility (CSR) in specific contexts".

The general presentation and the table of content of the book are available at:

Sunday, 06 October 2013

Publishing Debate part 1: Greater Freedoms Grant Greater Power

The Cross-strait Trade on Services Agreement does not, nominally at least, extend to the publishing industry, but it has unleashed an explosive debate in the publishing industry. Those in favour and those against both agree that 'freedom' is at the heart of Taiwan's publishing industry and that it's a value that must be upheld, but they hold opposing views of the effect that the implementation of the agreement will have on the industry. This special two part series allows two publishers on opposite sides of the argument to air their views, giving the reader a fuller picture of the possible advantages and drawbacks that the agreement will bring. The second article is available here.

What does the publishing industry really have to fear from the Cross-strait Trade in Services Agreement?

By Octw Chen (A long-time publishing industry insider), translated from the original Chinese by Conor Stuart. Photo by 楊忠銘.

Under the pressure of China's large capital is Taiwan left with no other option and destined to go under? The strong "soft" power of the vital and diverse space cultivated by publishing freedom might just exceed our expectations...

Are we really seeing things clearly when we talk about the Cross-strait Trade in Services Agreement?

A new debate has broken out in Taiwan surrounding the signing of the Cross-strait Trade in Services Agreement. What's interesting is that it was in the publishing industry that the controversy first blew up, despite the fact that this industry has no direct relationship to the content of the agreement. Despite the fact that the publishing industry wasn't one of the industries under discussion in this agreement, some of the topics discussed are very interesting and deserve further discussion. However, it's necessary to first state that what follows is limited to the publishing industry and that this essay is unable to make a more comprehensive judgment on the merits of the trade agreement as a whole, or to state with authority what effect it will have on other industries.

According to the views expressed by Hao Mingyi in his piece 'We have less than 24 hours left', which was the subject of much debate, Taiwan's publishing industry is a model for cultural industry that will quickly be swallowed up and obliterated when the market is opened up. Publishers on the other side of the strait need only kill us softly with cash injections and these 'essentially small scale, micro-industries' will 'all be outgunned, unable to escape going under or being bought out'.

Is this true? Is the publishing industry in Taiwan really so weak that it can't even withstand one blow? This assertion really is rather horrifying and it certainly serves the function of scaremongering well, the only unfortunate thing about it though is that it does nothing to explain the status quo.

In a creative and innovative industry it's hard to succeed just with capital

It's true that we have countless micro-publishers. We also have a publishing market that is the most liberal, fortified and competitive in the history of the Republic of China. However, because of this, in the best-seller lists, it is the small to medium sized publishing houses that are strongest when it comes to innovation, influence and competition.

In the 2012 top hundred overall bestseller list, the hundred books came from forty-four different publishing houses. This would be hard to imagine in a country like the United States – the bestseller list in America is the province of six major publishing groups (Oh yeah, that's right, now there's only five!) – the fact that Taiwan's bestsellers aren't concentrated in a few publishing houses is testament to the fact that no one publishing house in Taiwan enjoys market dominance.

The bestseller list has another peculiarity, which is that small to medium-scale publishing houses feature prominently, making up more than half of the total, with even a few legendary one-man publishing houses. These small- to medium-scale publishing houses have little fear of the capital of larger-scale publishing houses and they even outperform them by quite a margin in the bestseller rankings.

'Is this particularly out of the ordinary?' you might ask. Of course it is. This is indicative of the fact that Taiwan's publishing industry is still based on innovation and creativity and that you can't dominate the market with just capital. There have been competing investments from Hong Kong, Japan, the UK and the US in Taiwan's publishing market, but no single publishing group or foreign investor has achieved market dominance and no foreign investor has been able to use their vast capital and resources to defeat the innovative and creative small- to medium-scale publishing houses.

This is the simple reality of Taiwan's publishing market since the end of Martial Law in 1987.

The assertion that Taiwan's publishing market is too unconstrained, that it lacks security and as a result is too easy to infiltrate or 'invade', not only demonstrates an inability to understand the status quo, but also an ignorance of the way a free system functions.

The publishing market is already a healthy ecosystem

If Taiwan's publishing industry is defenseless, why hasn't it been monopolized by a major publishing group? I my opinion, this is because of publishing freedom. In Taiwan nobody can stop you starting up a publishing house or starting a publishing branch of your company or even just striking out on your own as a self-published author without need of a company, you just need to apply to the ISBN centre of the National Central Library for your own ISBN – you can even call them up to complain if they're not quick enough about it.

As this industry is so simple, in the past few decades many people working in the publishing industry have resigned their posts at big companies and starting out in their own micro-publishing house, making waves in the book market with a lot more capacity for innovation than bigger companies. This is an industry that is impossible to monopolize, because the industry allows for new people and companies on the scene, not only in terms of the lack of a structural hierarchy but also in terms of the ability to do business. You don't need to have a lot of capital to play the game and there's no burdensome entrance fee. The top hundred bestsellers' list tells us that you can make an impact on the bestseller list with just your own individual intelligence and hard work.

You'd be hard-pressed to find another industry in Taiwan that values individual creativity so much, and this is all due to the individual transactions of the readers as they choose this book or that. Anyone seeking to dominate the market wouldn't be able to do it just by buying up all the existing publishing houses, they would also have to pay off all the editors to prevent them from setting up shop themselves. How can one clamp down on the freedom to start one's own business? And how also, can one dictate reading preferences to readers on a national scale? If capital could warp preferences when it comes to buying books, then the top hundred bestseller list should, by rights, be dominated by big companies.

I believe that Taiwan's publishing market is already a healthy eco-system, it is strong enough and determined enough to withstand 'invaders' from abroad, these 'invaders' could even be said to strengthen the industry by challenging it. This is the truly formidable power of Taiwan's publishing industry.

The best defense is in not erecting walls around ourselves

In an article in Next Magazine under the title 'A great place for reading', Zhan Hongzhi, the founder of Cite Publishing stated, 'Historically, the places where there was most freedom to print and publish often became the places were cultural renaissances took shape amongst a diverse range of voices.' Such was the Dutch enlightenment, wherein many French and English thinkers, because their views were proscribed in their own countries, were forced to publish their most important works in the Netherlands. Freedom and openness pushed the Netherlands to be a country at the forefront of European thought at that time, attracting a talented elite, allowing this small Western European country to cut a formidable figure on the seas in competition with the English and the Spanish. Dutch navigators were more or less engaged in global trade even then.

Freedom and liberty forged the Netherlands' golden era, likewise, publishing freedom is an extremely valuable soft power for Taiwan. It represents not only the collecting together of ideas, but it serves to awaken our minds – only places where there is publishing freedom will win the recognition of intellectuals.

What's most startling about the viewpoints that have been put forward concerning the publishing industry amidst the controversy surrounding the trade in services agreement is that these commentators seem to see Taiwan's clear strength as its weakness. The firm ground of freedom is seen as unable to withstand even one blow. When we should be upholding freedom, we instead build a high wall to cut ourselves off. This viewpoint is blind to the reality of the publishing industry, and underestimates its strength. If this viewpoint becomes the popular one, then that is a pity for Taiwan and if it goes further and becomes government policy, than that will be a tragedy for Taiwan – as our greatest advantage will be destroyed by our own hand.

We do need to protect Taiwan's publishing freedom, but the best way to do this is not to build ourselves a greenhouse, that will, on the contrary, destroy competition within the industry. The best line of defence is to continue to give free reign to competition, only then will the industry continue to cultivate publishers with determination, who will, when unhappy, be able to go their own way and start up influential independent publishing houses. To ensure that the eco-system continues to be balanced, innovative, free and diverse, this is the only way in which we can safeguard Taiwan's publishing industry.

Saturday, 05 October 2013

Film Review: Surname Viet Given Name Nam

The film Surname Viet Given Name Nam was the the second of two opening films of the five day Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival 2013. It's being held at the Wonderful Theatre, just opposite exit 6 of Ximen MRT - catch it before it's over.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

A Fight between David and Goliath

Non-violent resistance against the construction of a naval base in South Korea

Since 2007, a small village in South Korea has led a non-violent resistance against the construction of a naval base next door to a UNESCO biosphere reserve. The official reasons for the construction of a military base on the self-governing island of Jeju, about 80 kilometers from the mainland, are to allow for better policing of the sea-lanes and faster response to any acts of aggression by North Korea.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

HIV Awareness in Papua

Socio-economic inequalities and the spread of HIV/AIDS in Indonesian Papua

The small wood and corrugated iron shack is dark, the only light coming from a hole in the wall above the fireplace. In a corner, Tarius* (23) lies on a thin mattress. His face is gaunt, his gaze empty. Every so often, a rumbling cough shakes his chest. He seems oblivious to the lively family discussions around him. One of his cousins recently died after an unknown illness and his funeral is to be held later in the day. But the family is worried about Tarius' own condition, as he has been unable to keep food down for over ten days and is rapidly losing weight. Tarius' father came across an NGO worker talking about sexually transmittable diseases (STDs) and HIV/AIDS at the market a few days ago and although he has not shared his worries with the rest of the family, he fears his son's symptoms are those of AIDS.

In their 2012 report, UNAIDS highlighted the recent successes in combating HIV/AIDS around the world. Everywhere countries are making historic gains and 25 low- and middle-income countries showed a 50% reduction in the rate of new HIV infections in 2011 compared to 20011 . In Swaziland, which has the highest HIV prevalence in the world, new HIV infections have dropped by 37%. While most national epidemics appear to have stabilized, HIV incidence, however, rapidly increased2 in two Southeast Asian countries, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Across the more than 17,000 islands that encompass Indonesia (with a population of over 242,000,000), more than 380,0003 people have been tested HIV positive. The worst affected regions are the two most easternmost provinces of Papua and West Papua, where a generalized epidemic is underway. With only 1,5 percent of Indonesia's population, the two provinces account for over 15 per cent of all Indonesia's new HIV cases in 20114 . The HIV prevalence rate is 11 times higher than the national average and has reached 3.5%5,6 . In 2006, AusAid expected 3.61% of the population in Papua to be HIV positive by 20257 . In fact it has reached this level more than ten years earlier than predicted.

The development of poverty and social inequalities

Home to the world's second largest rain forest, and some of the greatest natural reserves in gold, timber gas and fisheries, the two Papua provinces remain Indonesia's poorest region. Ever since Indonesia controversially 'integrated' Papua in 1969 under the auspices of the UN, it has implemented an aggressive modernization campaign that maximizes resource exploitation. Apart from a small elite who could be said to have both participated in and reaped the benefits of this development, the majority of indigenous Papuans have remained at its margins.

From 1969 to 2000 the Indonesian government implemented large transmigration programs funded by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, officially aimed at alleviating the population density of other Indonesian provinces. For the Indonesian government, these programs also conveniently altered the ethnic balance of the province and diluted concentrations of indigenous resistance. Transmigration on a smaller scale still occurs today, but is no longer state funded. These population movements have effectively transformed indigenous Papuans into a minority and have increased their marginalization. Over 30% of Papuans now live below the poverty line8 compared to 12% nationally9 , this number including the relatively prosperous migrant groups.

In an attempt to ease Papua's desire for independence and rectify some of the past abuses within the province, Special Autonomy (Otsus) was granted in 2001. Although this has greatly increased the funding to the region, very little progress has been made in crucial areas such as health and education and Papuan civil society seems to agree that it has failed to bring about the sweeping changes it was aimed to inspire. Development has profited to a select few and has further increased social stratification. Many communities still lack basic infrastructure such as clean running water, sanitation and electricity and people in remote rural locations, where roughly 75% of all indigenous people live, have been largely left out by development. Access to quality health and education is a problem for large sections of the indigenous population, especially outside of urban centers.

HIV awareness Papua 1

Cultural practices and sexual health awareness

Tarius lives in Jayawijaya regency, one of the most populated (over 200,000 inhabitants) but also one of the most affected areas of Papua. In September 2012, 250410 people had tested positive for HIV. But these numbers are not representative of the full problem. The number of HIV carriers unaware of their condition is much higher and can only be guessed at. Local NGOs estimate there are at least 6000 undetected cases in Jayawijaya and surrounding areas.

The prevalence rate among ethnic Papuans is almost twice as high as among the Indonesian newcomers11. Contrary to the rest of Indonesia where the epidemic is mainly concentrated among high risk groups such as injection drug users and sex workers, in Papua transmission is almost entirely through heterosexual relations (97,1%)12 and has very much spread to the low-risk population. Indonesian health officials often blame cultural sex practices such as 'wife swapping' for the rapid spread of HIV in Papua, but transmigration and large resource extraction projects have fed the sex industry, which has also been a major driver of the spread of the disease. The exclusion of large parts of the indigenous populations from development and access to the market economy has led increasing levels of Papuan women to engage in prostitution. Poverty is such that transactions often take place in unregulated open air or street dwelling sites with no safety precautions. One NGO worker said that some very young girls sell their bodies for less than 50 cent, for which you cannot even buy a packet of cigarettes or condoms. In semi official prostitution establishments, immigrant prostitutes (usually wearing condoms) charge 20 Euro upwards.

Sexual health awareness is extremely low, not only among Papuan prostitutes but among the Papuan population as a whole. When senior high school students were asked about HIV/AIDS modes of transmission during one of the rare awareness-raising workshop by a local NGO, a majority of them stated that the virus was transmitted through mosquitoes and were not aware that no cure for the disease has yet been found. A worrying amount of youngsters also believed that the virus could be transmitted through kissing and shaking hands13.

Awareness means life

This lack of knowledge about the modes of transmission, coupled with the long running political conflict and the climate of mistrust and fear it has borne, has led to many misconceptions and a number of conspiracy theories. The suspicion that HIV has been introduced specifically to decimate the indigenous population is widespread. A common belief among highland Papuans is that chicken served in restaurants (mostly run by non-Papuans) is injected with the HIV virus to intentionally infect them. These misconceptions about the virus have a direct impact on the lives and welfare of people living with HIV/AIDS.

Tarius' father eventually called the NGO worker he had met at the market to visit his son at home. Despite the funeral, the young man was rushed to hospital where blood tests revealed he was indeed HIV positive. The NGO worker accompanying him didn't tell him right away. The family was present and "if people in his community knew of his status, horrible things could happen", he said. People are not at risk of being burned alive anymore like some years ago, but the stigma is still strong. Some priests claim during mass that AIDS is a punishment from God to those who have sinned. Churches are slow to tackle the problem, and it can still be a problem to find a priest who buries someone who openly died from AIDS related diseases. A young NGO worker who studied theology complains that he sometimes spends many days looking for priests to perform funerals for HIV patients, knocking on many closed doors and being turned back. The fear of stigmatization in the community stops people from sharing their experiences and makes them reluctant to get tested for the disease. Despite the influx of large amounts of money to combat the epidemic, only a very small number of local NGOs are actually working on the ground and fighting the stigma associated with HIV.

Stigma also has an impact on patients' proper medication, as they must take it secretly. Others do not take their medicine at all and try curing the disease with traditional remedies such as buah merah, the fruit from the Pandanus tree, or perform traditional rituals. Others start taking the medicine but don't take it regularly, or stop taking it once they feel better, as for many treatment equals cure. Others take their medicine regularly as long as they are in town, but stop once they return to their village, as they have to return to town to resupply but cannot always afford the transport fee.

An inadequate response to an ever-growing problem

testingThe fact that HIV infection is higher among ethnic Papuans is representative of greater socio-economic inequalities. Much remains to be done to reach the United Nations Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS and the Millennium Development goals. In Papua, the severity of the situation has been completely underestimated by the authorities and so far, their response to the epidemic has been completely inadequate. In order to decrease dissatisfaction with their rule, a general attitude of the Indonesian government has been to provide local governments in Papua with large amounts of money. It is then assigned to various programs without proper preliminary research and subsequent monitoring. The actual causes of the problem are however rarely tackled. The poor standards or complete lack of health services and education throughout the region not only facilitate the spread of the disease, they also severely impede any efficient response to the epidemic. Indeed, although the provincial governments have made HIV testing and treatment free, many Papuans do not have access to health care or education and are unlikely to be reached by awareness-raising campaigns any time soon. In the meantime, the virus continues its deadly advance into the highlands.

Article and photos by Antoine Lemaire and Carole Reckinger

More photos here:

1.UNAIDS Report on theglobal AIDS epidemic (2012)
2. By more than 25%
5.Variables used: Papua and West Papua census 2010 (3,593, 803) HIV statistic 2012 13.196 = 3,7 %. Taking into account population growth since 2010, we took the number down to 3,5%
6. Over 13,000 people have tested HIV positive in both provinces
7.AusAID, February 2006, Impacts of HIV/AIDS 2005–2025 in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and East Timor, final report of HIV epidemiological modeling and impact study 8.
10.Papuapos (14 November 2012) Semua Elemen di Jayawijaya Diminta Komit Menanggulangi HIV/AIDS,
11. ASCI Research Report No. 12, September 2008: “AIDS, Security and Conflict Initiative. Indigenous welfare and HIV/AIDS risks: The impacts of government reform in the Papua region, Indonesia”,
12.Tabloid Jubi (20 December 2012), HIV dan AIDS Provinsi Papua Per 30 September Capai 13.196 Kasus,
13.Authors were present during 9 workshops organized over a two week period by a local NGO.




Friday, 17 February 2012

China's Challenges in the Year of the Dragon

Benoît Vermander comments on challenges that China needs to face in 2012, the Year of the Dragon.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011



Monday, 25 April 2011

Religions and Charities in China

The religious growth that China currently experiences is leading towards a most interesting trend: the organization of faith-based charities.  For sure, such trend is still hampered by a number of factors, but it does express the growing assertiveness of China’s civil society and of its religious groups.



Thursday, 09 December 2010

Is China's civil society truly on the rise?

If the emergence of a civil society in China is inevitable, the condition and the form of its development can be questioned as a space for public debate still to be defined.

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Friday, 29 October 2010



Monday, 18 October 2010


楊富閔是一位閃耀的年輕文壇新星,近來出版了短篇小說集「花甲男孩」--- 包括駱以軍及施淑等多位著名作家與評論家,皆對此書大表讚賞。

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